"Coming Clean:" 3 Ways I Know Therapy Is Working and 1 Way I Fear It Never Will

Plus, win a Kindle Paperwhite and a $100 gift certificate, or a copy of "Coming Clean" by Kimberly Rae Miller!

Aug 7, 2013 at 3:30pm | Leave a comment

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I'm a sucker for a harrowing memoir. The more horrible stuff that happened to a person, the better. So I was the natural choice to write this sponsored post about "Coming Clean," by Kimberly Rae Miller, who survived an insane childhood in a hoarder house before anyone really knew what that was. (Oh, also, you can win a Kindle and/or a copy of the book; details at the end.)

It's lucky (for the purposes of writing this post only) that I also had a crazy and traumatic childhood because I can completely relate to this passage in which Kimberly realizes for the first time that she needs therapy after becoming convinced that she has bedbugs in her apartment, to the point that she slices open the box springs of her bed with a 10-inch chef's knife.

"Kim, I'm worried about you," she said. "This is what you do whenever you're upset -- you throw out your stuff. But since you don't have much stuff to throw out, you've created some sort of physical manifestation for your PTSD."

"I don't have PTSD, I'm just really itchy."

That night I woke up at 3 a.m., sweating and itchy despite my antihistamine, and resigned myself to the fact that I didn't have bedbugs. I just hadn't dealt with my childhood.

For a long time before I started actively working on my issues, I thought there must be something physically wrong with me. I went to doctor after doctor describing a strange amalgam of symptoms that no one was able to conceivably connect into one medical explanation. The explanation, of course, was that I was clinically depressed and self-medicating with alcohol and drugs instead of dealing with my childhood trauma.

I tried yoga and self-help books and diets and acupuncture and religion, but in the end what I really needed was to get myself to a therapist and to get sober, since therapy doesn't do much good when you're drinking away all your feelings.

These days it takes therapy, two sponsors (in two different programs), a daily gratitude email list made up of 6 sober women, plus a combination of prayer, meditation, exercise and phone calls just to knock the crazy off me every day. My therapists (I have two) talk to each other on the phone sometimes like international heads of state having a strategy meeting. I once asked my sex therapist if he and my regular therapist talk about how messed up I am and he responded, “Well…”

Still, I know I'm getting better and as proof I even phased out of group therapy last year. Here are a few tangible pieces of evidence that remind me therapy is working (aside from the best evidence of all, my 4 1/2 years of sobriety!).

I live in a clean house.

My parents weren't hoarders, but I grew up in a filthy house and felt a lot of shame about it -- when the author describes answering the door by opening it just a crack so no one can see inside, girl I RELATE TO THAT. As an adult, my living conditions never rivaled the unsanitary ones of my childhood, but when you're out of your mind on drugs and alcohol on the daily, cleanliness is definitely not your top priority. Today it's one of the great pleasures of my life to provide a clean, sanitary living environment for my child that is nothing like what I grew up with. (This is definitely assisted by the fact that I live with an obsessively clean person, but I'm going to take some of the credit.)

I can stand to be alone today.

When I first got sober, I was literally incapable of being alone in my house. Something about just sitting there with just myself, and no chemical buffer between me and my feelings, truly horrified me. Whenever my boyfriend was out for the night or, even worse, out of town, I would have to stay with friends or even just go sit in a movie theater for hours. Like the best personal growth, I didn't even notice this changing, but one day I just kind of turned around and realized I actually look forward to alone time now. (Might also have something to do with how much less of it I get these days.)

I just bought clothes in a size 14.

I still have lots of issues with food and my body, but I've stopped obsessively dieting and making myself throw up. As a result, I've gained weight and I've had to really work on accepting myself as I am. To that end, I've been slowly purchasing items to replace all my old clothing -- I now own a pair of jeans, several pencil skirts, and lots of dresses in a size 14. And I'm pretty cool with that. I may be more comfortable at a smaller size, but size 14 is where my body wants to be and I'm doing my best to accept it instead of fighting it.

Despite all the awesome progress I've made over the years, I still kind of hate therapy. Weird, since I usually love attention and talking about myself! I have elaborate fantasies about "graduating" and not having to sit on those dumb couches anymore. But just when I start to think I'm "fixed," something happens to remind me that I've still got a few ISSUES to work on. Like:

I still can't manage to save any money.

I just overdrafted my account and had to ask my mom for 137 dollars to cover it. On her birthday. I'm 30. And I make enough money. I know some part of me feels entitled to all the pretty things I want as some sort of repayment for all the bad things that have happened to me in my life. And that reactionary little girl part of me continues to resist learning adult financial skills like budgeting and saving. Sigh. I'm working on it -- in therapy.

But you know what makes me feel better about recovering from a lifetime of issues? Knowing I'm not the only one. I guess that's why I revel in the details of other people's horrific childhoods, and why I tore through "Coming Clean" so quickly. Crazy loves company! Join the club by tweeting a submission about personal growth/coming to terms with your past, and five lucky readers will win a Free Kindle Paperwhite AND a $100 gift certificate to Casa.com, while 50 more of you will win a Free Kindle Edition of the book "Coming Clean". Submissions must include the @xojanedotcom Twitter handle as well as #comingcleanbook and #sweeps. You can find more official rules here.

Winners will be picked by random drawing. Now tell me your favorite "horrible-stuff-happening-to-people" memoir in the comments. Or talk about your therapist or whatever.

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Kimberly Rae Miller, author of "Coming Clean," on the train after her first interview for the book on NPR's "Tell Me More."

This article was sponsored by  "Coming Clean," by Kimberly Rae Miller now available on Amazon. 

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